Once again, about “less is more”

My post 1+1=0 was about not overloading our work with information. Otherwise, we lose our audience. Be it illustrations, blog posts, or advertisements. In the meantime, two more examples caught my eye.

The movie Terminator 2 was a revelation to my 13-year-old me. It was the only movie in my life where after the credits rolled, I rewound the VHS tape right away to watch it again. I could almost speak the dialogue simultaneously.

One day when I held the DVD in my hands featuring a 17-minute more extended Director’s Cut, I couldn’t wait to watch it. Seventeen more minutes of Terminator! A childhood dream came true.

But the disillusionment was huge. The additional scenes were strange to the point of disappointment. Not only did they seem unnecessary, but they pushed the Terminator character in a different, almost ridiculous direction. Since then, I only watch the original cinema version. Again less was more.

I found another example in D&AD’s The Copy Book. Jim Durfree writes about professional writing:

“When you get your copy to the point where you’re really, really happy with it, cut it by a third.”

Jim Durfree (advertiser, copy writer)

1 + 1 = 0

Humans are sensitive creatures when it comes to paying attention. In design, illustration, and especially advertising, the now hackneyed-sounding guideline “Less is more” applies. After twenty years of experience, I can agree with this, too, when conveying messages to the viewer fast and immediately.

Let’s take my Mindshot-series as an example. I don’t refer to the minimalistic, black-white-red drawing style, which is just an inevitable reflex to the attempt to visualize complex content in a concentrated way. It’s about the message.

After hundreds of illustrations and thousands of ideas and attempts, at some point, I was able to realize: the illustration collapses as soon as it is overloaded with information. So the challenge is removing as much information as possible while it still works. Like a chef who is preparing the poisonous blowfish, this sometimes requires meticulous dissection.

We see the principle every day in advertising. Effective advertising conveys one main piece of information.

A car ad cannot unfold all the benefits of the vehicle on an A4 page or in a 10-second commercial. It cannot show to the same extent how fast, environmentally friendly, safe, economical, exclusive, status-enhancing, and beautiful the car is.

Well-done advertising distills the product’s advantage and conveys it unambiguously. Otherwise, our brain pulls the handbrake on too much information and turns its attention to something else.

Good advertising, evil advertising (1)

There is something hypocritical about the way we humans deal with advertising. One moment we’re complaining when the YouTube video is interrupted once again. At other times, we’re shivering the whole night in front of a store to get the latest smartphone, which, from a technical point of view, is barely more powerful than the cheaper competition.

If we despise advertising, it is because we are aware that we are not only distracted by it but influenced by it. Advertising triggers our most diverse emotions, which are supposed to animate us to take action. We feel manipulated, guided, glided. We don’t want to be treated like that.

But where is the line between “good” and “evil” advertising? Does it even exist? When I go to the supermarket to buy milk, I’m facing a shelf full of different milk cartons, all carrying the more or less same liquid: Whole milk with 3.5% fat.

But the packages, on the other hand, differ significantly. Some are lost in quantity. They seem to have been designed without much affection. The package shows a glass in which the milk is poured. Since the background is white overall, the milk appears grayish, almost like wet concrete. In addition, the information is kept too small, making it harder to read than the competition’s designs. An interchangeable logo makes the appearance even less attractive. Price 1.39€.

The situation is different with one of the competitor’s products. Again, the packaging says whole milk with 3.5% fat. But here, the info is concise and evident at first glance. The manufacturer’s coat of arms crowned adorns the azure packaging. In the background, radiantly bright milk also flows into a glass with illustrated cold drops of condensation. The packaging design makes you want to drink a fresh glass of milk while conveying a sense of tradition and quality. Price 1,69 €

We eat with our eyes first! Let’s assume that this sentence is true and that the milk in both packages is from the same cow. Have we been manipulated by the excellent design when we reach for the more expensive one? Were we tricked and cheated out of the 30 cents? Or did the manufacturers simply invest more time and money in a sophisticated presentation to offer the customer an exceptional drinking experience? Maybe the manufacturer sees milk as something holy. To him, it’s not just something we pour over our cereal every morning as a matter of course. He sees milk as an elixir. It’s Mother Nature’s gift to humans to survive and enjoy.

We do not know the reason for the additional effort. Maybe it’s about pure profit motive or the founder’s deep appreciation and love of food. But the fact is, we as consumers get more for the 30 cents extra cost. The decision as to whether this “more” justifies 30 cents is then entirely ours.